Philadelphia Flyers: 5 Offseason Moves To Avoid Another Second-Half Fizzle
The Philadelphia Flyers seemed to hit a wall in the second half of this season, from the outset of February until the postseason.
A few factors can be attributed to this team's underachieving play in the final half of the 2010-2011 season, which saw them relinquish the top spot in the East that they held the majority of the year.
This level of play, along with a ridiculous goaltending carousel in the playoffs, has led to another playoff deficit to the Bruins—just like in last year's second round.
Here's what the Flyers need to do to avoid another second-half setback next year.
Managing Incumbent Free Agents
Ville Leino is Philadelphia's best free agent this summer.
The Flyers do not need to make a splash for a free-agent skater. They need to make sure they keep the right players to remain contenders in the East.
Philadelphia doesn't have to make too many tough decisions, but the decisions they do make have to be right considering how close they are to the salary cap.
Ville Leino is the top pending unrestricted free agent for the Flyers this summer. Other names on the pro roster include Nikolai Zherdev, Sean O'Donnell, Brian Boucher and often-scratched Nick Boynton.
Leino is the most important piece to the success of this team of any of these names.
While Zherdev has great skill, he still lacks consistency. O'Donnell was a solid one-year pickup to sure up the back end and Boynton was the very last addition to the unit, while he is seldom used.
Boucher's role with the team may be in question this summer as the Flyers may look to improve their goaltending situation and let Sergei Bobrovsky develop as well.
Restricted free agents include role players Dan Carcillo, Andreas Nodl, Darroll Powe and Danny Syvret. I would look for the Flyer to bring back Leino and then address any restricted offer sheets if it came to that.
O'Donnell could be brought in to have his same depth role or the Flyers could go young with more of Oskars Bartulis and Syvret, while Erik Gustafsson could also develop.
Managing their own free agents is important to not only help the team down the stretch, but to keep the club competitive as a whole.
The Power Play Must Return to Form
The Flyers' power play should have been higher than 19th in the NHL this year.
The Flyers have too many skilled players to not have a perennial top-10 power play.
If their power-play unit would have lived up to its potential, they could have really given themselves more separation than they had in the East, as they lost the top spot to the Washington Capitals.
Philadelphia converted 16.6 percent of the time with the extra man, a number that should be higher with the likes of Claude Giroux, Jeff Carter, Mike Richards and Danny Briere on the ice as well as Chris Pronger, Kimmo Timonen and Andrej Meszaros on the back end.
The power play is something that can be improved simply through hard work to improve chemistry and should be able to rebound next year.
The Flyers power play should not be 19th while they have a roster that is in the top 10 in pure talent. While that is an opinionated point to debate, most would agree that is where the Flyers are.
Stay Healthy on the Back End
Bartulis's injury on this play was tough to avoid, but health on the back end is still a key factor to the Flyers' success even with their impressive depth.
Chris Pronger missed time during two injury stints this year, and the team permormed with mixed results.
He missed 13 games early on and the Flyers still posted a 9-4 record, but his second time out of the lineup had less than stellar results.
The Flyers sputtered at the end of the regular season and went 8-13 without Pronger, including the first five games of the first round against Buffalo.
The injury to Oskars Bartulis was a tough one for the Flyers to deal with. The play was borderline incidental and tough to tell how much intent Scottie Upshall (who was a fan favorite before being traded to Phoenix for Dan Carcillo) had rushing toward the net and Bartulis.
Bartulis could see more responsibility next year depending on if Sean O'Donnell comes back, but he was still an important loss to this unit as a whole.
Along with the goaltending issues the Flyers have had, Pronger's loss from the lineup was a well-documented injury with a significant impact on the team's performance down the stretch. If he is able to stay healthy for all of next season, the Flyers will be able to start a playoff run with less question marks than this year of underachieving play.
Seeing the Best of Sergei Bobrovsky More Often
Sergei Bobrovsky's early season form is what the Flyers will be looking for more of as his career progresses.
Sergei Bobrovsky was in the running at the earliest stages of the Calder Trophy debate this year and even had a 21-6-3 record through the end of January.
He hit a rough patch the rest of the way, going 6-7-5 and finished with a 2.59 goals allowed average—doesn't really jump off the page.
"Bob" was the Flyers playoff starter before the infamous goaltending carousel started to go around this spring.
The way he tailed off towards the end of the season drove conversations away from "Rookie of the Year" to people just thinking, "Oh well, he'll have a great future."
While the latter seems very reasonable, the Flyers could have been more convinced that their goaltending situation had finally been solved if Bobrovsky would have been able to hold up.
So for now, it looks like it's about the future for this young netminder.
Get a Goalie for Right Now
The Flyers need to find a way to make room for Ilya Bryzgalov or Tomas Vokoun.
So here is the top reason how the Flyers can avoid a second-half swoon and shortcomings in the postseason:
While Sergei Bobrovsky should be able to develop into a better goaltender soon, the rest of the Flyers roster is built to win now with its outstanding skill and depth.
There is no reason why they should not make a serious run at one of the marquee free-agent goaltenders, Ilya Bryzgalov or Tomas Vokoun.
While some amount of Philadelphia's depth may have to be compromised, it would be worth it to add a lasting, stud goaltender that this franchise has been looking for since Ron Hextall left.
Bryzgalov should be regarded as the better choice, given that he had better statistics across the board other than save percentage and has some (average) playoff experience.
Vokoun may actually be harder for the Flyers to bring in than Bryzgalov from a financial standpoint. Florida has an unprecedented $41 million in cap space this summer and Vokoun is going to be their top priority in free agency.
Unless Vokoun really wants to get out of Florida (which would be understandable, but to the tune of turning down a possible $7 million or more per year?), the Panthers will surely be able to afford him.
Bryzgalov, on the other hand, is sure to be expensive but the uncertain ownership and location of the Coyotes has a real shot of convincing him to go somewhere else.
The Flyers need to look to completely solidify their roster to play well all year long and in the playoffs, and the only necessary place for improvement on this team right now is in net. Do that and they have a shot at bringing home some hardware.